The CPS today announced that homophobic abuse of players and fans at regulated football matches, along with online abuse via social media, will this season be targeted by the use of Football Banning Orders. BBC Coverage.
I have to admit at the outset that I am a football fan, and that the overuse of the Football Banning Order legislation is somewhat of a bugbear for me. I stress that I completely agree with the use of the Orders for so-called “fans” whose sole purpose of attending football matches is to cause disorder.
But I have had to on a number of occasions make representations in relation to the imposition of Banning Orders in completely inappropriate circumstances. For example, an Arsenal fan, previously of good character, arrested for a public order offence at Piccadilly train station. His crime being closest to the door when a group of Arsenal fans involved in a sing-song at Wetherspoons used the F-word in unison. Technically, a public order offence under section 5 of the Act, a refusal by the police to caution or serve a fixed penalty notice, and therefore a guilty plea at Court and a financial penalty followed. A Banning Order was also applied for and despite my protestations at the time, granted. A lifelong Arsenal season ticket holder, no previous incidents & no intelligence to say he was linked to any previous disorder, no longer able to attend either home or away matches, nor even go within an exclusion zone of the Emirates when they were playing. Not appropriate, in my opinion, but the Magistrates thought it necessary to prevent further disorder at regulated football matches.
So the powers have now been extended. I fail to see, on the basis of the legislation concerning banning orders on conviction (Football Spectators Act 1989, s14A) as it currently stands, how online abuse via social media is going to be covered.
There are a number of hurdles to be cleared before the Order can be imposed:-
1. There must a conviction for relevant offence – most of which state that they must be committed during a period relevant to a football match to which Schedule 1 applies at a relevant premises, or on a journey to or from a football match.
2. There must be reasonable grounds to believe that making a banning order would help to prevent violence or disorder at or in connection with further regulated football matches.
So, any abusive social media messages aimed at players or fans would only be covered by the Act if the accused was either at, entering or leaving a premises, or on a journey to or from a regulated football match, and it was sent during a relevant period. Not easy and very expensive to prove.
The changes in relation to homophobic abuse at football matches, I wholeheartedly support. Such abuse, along with the racist abuse which has featured in the news so prominently in the last 12 months, is completely unacceptable and something that I would certainly challenge if I ever heard it at a football match. Arguably this behaviour has been covered by the Act previously, section 5 public order offences being relevant offences, but it is refreshing to see that this kind of abuse will now be targeted with much more vigour.
We can only hope that the increased powers combined with the suggestion that there are financial incentives for the police in applying for Football Banning Orders (Independent Coverage) don’t result in innocent fans using the F-word in unison with others being hauled before the Courts and convictions recorded against them purely in order for Banning Orders to be applied for.
I certainly hope that, if this is to be the case, there are no police officers in the South Stand s126 at Old Trafford on Monday evening.
If you have been arrested for a football related offence and are worried about the imposition of a Football Banning Order, please contact our specialist team on 0161 827 9500.